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13 February 2015, 05:00
A "shocking postcode lottery on food hygiene'' has been uncovered in an investigation into standards across Scotland.
Research by consumer group Which? found that some parts of the country are falling "well below'' basic food hygiene requirements.
The organisation has published a map showing the Scottish councils it claims are failing to ensure their businesses meet the necessary standards.
The City of Edinburgh emerged as the poorest performing Scottish local authority, while North Lanarkshire was rated the best performing council.
Which? looked at all of Scotland's 32 local authorities and analysed the latest data they had submitted to the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
The data covered a wide range of places which sell food, including restaurants, takeaways, corner shops, schools and hospitals.
From those figures, the consumer group ranked the local authorities on how they are performing on food safety enforcement.
Edinburgh came bottom with only 68% of its medium and high risk businesses meeting hygiene requirements, according to Which?
It was followed by Perth & Kinross and Falkirk in 31st and 30th place, respectively.
North Lanarkshire Council came out tops in Scotland and took a UK ranking of 42, out of 398 local authorities.
Orkney claimed second place in Scotland, with North Ayrshire in third.
Businesses are ultimately responsible for complying with hygiene rules but local authorities are tasked with enforcing compliance.
Which? spokesperson, Gordon MacRae, said: "Our research reveals a shocking postcode lottery on food hygiene where in some places you may as well toss a coin before deciding which restaurant to trust with your health.
"Consumers expect local authorities to check that food businesses in their area comply with hygiene standards and rigorously enforce the rules.
"Local authorities should do more to make the best use of limited resources, respond effectively to risks across the food supply chain and ensure consumers are adequately protected wherever they live.
"Tackling food enforcement has to be a priority for Scottish ministers and the new food agency, Food Standards Scotland, when it comes into being in April.''
Edinburgh council launched a robust defence of its approach to enforcement of food hygiene standards.
Community safety leader Cammy Day said: "The City of Edinburgh Council is the top performing local authority in Scotland in terms of taking formal enforcement action against premises that are a risk to health.
"We have a policy of focusing our interventions on food businesses that pose a significant risk of contamination, to prevent serious infections such as E.Coli. This approach is designed to target resources where they are most needed to keep people safe.
"Through this strategy we have been very successful in lowering the overall risk of these contaminations and raising food hygiene standards throughout the city.
"It is therefore very misleading to compare our overall number of interventions with that of other local authorities who have not adopted this more targeted approach.
"Our approach is fully supported by the Scottish Food Standards Agency and indeed the Food Standards Agency in England is looking closely at our enforcement successes with a view to promoting it to local authorities south of the border.''
Professor Alison McCallum, the director of public health and health policy at NHS Lothian branded the Which? report "misleading''.
"Edinburgh's strengths are that, within the resources available, its environmental health officers are true experts who demonstrate all of the features that Which has identified as best practice,'' she said.
"On the basis of their approach, Edinburgh's EHOs have demonstrated time and time again their ability to respond rapidly when required in and out of hours, often facilitating premises closure within two-four hours of being notified of a problem.''
Which? based its rankings on three criteria: the proportion of premises ranked as high or medium risk in a local authority that were compliant with food hygiene requirements; the percentage of premises that had been rated for risk; and the proportion of follow- ups that were carried out by local authority inspectors.
They scored each authority against the UK average for the criteria, and then combined those scores, giving 50% of the weighting to the percentage of compliant high and medium risk premises and 25% of the weighting to each of the other two criteria.